Monthly Archives: August 2009

La Palacete de Roses

This image was taken outside a cute little park in Madrid.  In the park is the Temple of Debod, a real Egyptian temple given to the Spanish government in thanks for helping to catalog the artifacts in the Nile valley above the Aswan dam before it was flooded. The temple is amazing in this setting, perched on the top of the highest hill in Madrid, adjacent to the Palacio Real (the Spanish White House).

The cafe was extremely chill, and it’s also where we first discovered the joys of the Cuba Libre (rum and coke) made with Havana Club. We both wanted something cold since it was so hot, but we also wanted to get our groove on. Beer didn’t sound nice at the time, and it didn’t seem like the right environment for Jerez. Then I remembered that we could get Cuban rum here legally! This instantly became the default drink for the remainder of the trip, even after we got back to France.

Las Ventas

One of Madrid’s allures to me was the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas. This is widely considered to be the most important bull ring in the world. It’s the equivalent of Yankee Stadium for baseball or Texas Stadium for Football (which oddly enough both had a swan song last season).

This photo was taken just before the start of the parade that kicks off the corrida. Note the position of the shadow at the center of the ring. The location of this shadow is what dictates the start time for the fight because the promoters make more money by selling more seats in the shade. Our corrida started at 19:00, and as you can see we were in the shade (sombra).

Unfortunately there were no Habanos to be had since the state-run tabacarias in Madrid have been closed all weekend because of the Fiesta la Paloma. It’s basically like all of the neighborhood fairs in San Francisco were held over one weekend. Most of the stores are closed, and many of the bars and restaurants have closed for the holiday. However, in our 2 days here we have been to enough cafes, cervecerias and restaurants to last us a month at home. More about a few of those tomorrow!

Museo Reina Sophia

After we checked into our hotel (more on that over the next few days), the first order of business was lunch. Our hotel is on a square that is filled with cafes. We had our first real meal of tapas, and were happy as clams (marinated in olive oil, of course!). The next stop was El Museo Nacional, Centro de Arte: The Reina Sophia.

In one word: Wow!

Granted, this museum is only for 20th Century art, but it was absolutely my favorite so far (Liz still has Picasso, Paris, on her ballot). The famous pieces are:

  • Picasso’s Guernica
  • I bought a portfolio of the entire canvas at a 1:1 ratio…it’s a box with 600 sheets. Problem is they’re printed front and back, so I would’ve needed to buy 2 copies to assemble my own. Esta bien.

  • Dali’s Woman at a Window
  • Her calves have the most amazing lighting effect. It is indescribable.

  • Picasso’s Woman in Blue
  • He disavowed this painting because it didn’t win a National competition; only came in Runner-up.

Manejando Rapidamente

The next part of our trip called for us to drop off the French Wagon Queen Family Truckster 177 km south of Roses in Barcelona. We left Roses just a little bit late, so the optimist in me said that we could make it up on the drive down. I fell in with a convoy of speedy Spaniards in riced-out BMWs, and it turned out that we actually arrived earlier than planned!

We arrived in the Barcelona airport, turned in the car (no damage penalty on the mirror!), checked in and walked leisurely to our gate. The flight to Madrid was painless…akin to SF to LA. The drive to the hotel was equally painless. What I’m learning really quickly about Spain is that there is almost no stress. Which made it REALLY ironic to see a Church of Scientology a block from our hotel. Maybe they heard we were coming and set it up as a precaution? 😉

All in, everyone is really nice, and my Spanish is going really far.

El Bulli Overview

*** UPDATE: The full El Bulli review can be accessed by clicking on the El Bulli buttons in the top navigation bar. We look forward to seeing your comments and responding to any questions you may have. ***
This is just a placeholder post for the El Bulli review. I’m planning to do a full write-up, course by course, after we return to SF. At the very highest level I can say without equivocation that the hype is justified. This is the best restaurant in the world, and quite honestly I can’t see how anything could’ve been improved upon.

Briefly, we met Ferran Adrià as soon as we entered the restaurant. We took a brief tour of the kitchen and he shared a few seconds with us. It felt like we were in the presence of Pablo Picasso, John Lennon or Coco Channel. We were completely awed before we ate and the admiration we hold for him following the meal is indescribable.

Cafe In Roses

Shortly after arriving in Spain, we drove all the way out to the Roses peninsula.  It’s a 2 lane road about 18 km long with a rotary every km.  If they were 4-way stop lights, the ride would’ve taken 45 minutes.  As it was it took about 30.  We drove all the way through the town of Roses and into a residential area before we saw the first sign for our hotel, “Hotel Vistabella *****”.  Those stars don’t really represent reality.  It’s a wonderful hotel, and perfect for the site.  The Four Seasons would stick out like a sore thumb here, so this is really how it should be.

After we checked in, we walked down the hill to a beach-front cafe.  It was packed because of the free Wi-fi.  We had some beer, fried calamari, and milkshakes. Yummy beach food! Just as we were leaving to walk back up the hill, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” began playing in the background.  I have no idea what that means…I just thought it was nice.

Leaving the Riviera

The 5 and 1/2 hour trip from Monaco to Roses was bittersweet. Everyone knows how I drive, so you can imagine that I was like a pig in slop driving the A8, the main artery through the Riviera. Again, every 3rd car is a Ferrari.  And those that aren’t are driven as if they were. It was the most awesome and efficient traffic experience I’ve ever witnessed. A 3 lane automotive ballet!  And I was part of it without disrupting the flow. The only thing that would’ve made it better was my own car.  C’est la vie.

Another thing that we loved about driving the Rivera was a local English-language radio station: Riviera Radio.  Their self-agrandizing catch phrase?  “From the best yachts to the finest villas, Riviera Radio!” In actuality, it was super cheesy 70s/80s oldies-but-not-so-goodies. But it was a fun sort of camp, and it was much better than the monotone Italian talk radio or French-language Euro Pop on every other frequency.  When we lost signal someplace west of Cannes, we knew we were no longer in the Riviera.  And pardon the horrible turn of phrase, but when the music stopped so did the ballet.

But before we knew it we started seeing labels on trucks that we could prounounce, and soon thereafter we had crossed into España.  I tend to compare many of the places in which I’ve traveled to Mexico.  This is primarily because Mexico is my baseline for societies that live below the mainstream standard we enjoy in the US.  I almost instantly got this vibe from Spain and I mean this as a really good thing.  The roads aren’t in the same condition as in France, and nowhere near the pristine billiard tables that Monegasques enjoy.  And there’s a little more dust in the gutters.  And there are bars on the windows.  But it seems completely without pretense and so full of life.  We’ll write more about our experience in Roses over the coming days, but it’s a really great place so far.

This little comparison came to mind when I was trying to explain to Liz cultural differences in Europe.  Please forgive the sweeping generalizations, but here it is:

  • Italy: Work hard, play hard.
  • Spain: Play hard.
  • Germany: Work hard.
  • France: Don’t do anything hard.

I’m probably way off, but that’s my experience and I thought it made sense at the time.

The Casino

We did our obligatory stroll through The Casino tonight after dinner. Very interesting experience in that they:
1) Have a 10 euro cover charge, complete with bouncers at the door. At first I was a little offended, but when I got inside it made sense. The fare, while pretty substantial given the exchange rate keeps the tourists from meandering through and basically keeps the riff-raff out. I can only imagine that this was what Vegas was like in the yesteryear.
2) There is no smoking in the casino, but they have what I can only imagine was developed in Asia, a smoking bubble. Basically you walk into a round Plexiglas room that fits about 4 people, close the door behind you and light up. The air travels into the room through holes from the outside and gets filtered into the ceiling.
3) This one is for the ladies and may be too much information for the men reading this blog. But, in case you don’t know, women do not under any circumstances sit on a public toilet seat. They basically squat over the seat and you can imagine there is some sprinking that happens. A polite woman will wipe it down upon exiting (though this is not always the case – gross!) At The Casino, they have a contraption attached to the seat that lowers onto the seat and the toilet seat itself spins to clean it off. Pretty impressive, I must say. Okay, that’s it for my toilet rant.
4) Similar to exiting a restaurant in LA, there is also the Paparazzi out front, only in this case they are tourists. Upon our exit, about 30 flashes went off. We felt like J-Lo and Phil Collins, who are coincidentally staying at our hotel right now.

More from Spain tomorrow…or today, depending on where you are in the world.

P.S. The 20 euro bet on red (for Ferrari, of course) didn’t pay off. That was the extent of our gambling in Monte Carlo. We came, we saw and we lost. Mike doesn’t get to yell “I’m the man that broke the bank in Monte Carlo” the next time he rides a camel through Saudi Arabia.

P.P.S. – Liz wrote this, not Michael.  Michael would never name drop Phil Collins 😉